Vincent frequented the forest that Kadaj and his kind ran their operations in — first, for the solitude. Eventually, it became for the victims out there who caught themselves in their net with no one else looking for them. There could be no redemption for him. Nothing would change what was. But there was a future for those suffering from the stigma and if he knew Cloud, there was someone else out there making a stand as well. How could he do any less?
He did not sign up for this, however.
“Tseng, is he—” How Elena dragged herself and Tseng to his hideout, or even knew where to find him, was a mystery. She teetered, half-dead and somehow still conscious, catching herself on a pile of crates. Who knew what was even in them. “—I’m okay, I’m okay.”
Vincent lifted Tseng, unconscious and pale but alive, and carried him to a bench in the abandoned stone church he’d made into his quarters. Elena trailed after him, guiding herself on whatever was near her path to Vincent and Tseng. Her stubbornness and sheer determination… They often reminded him of someone he would never forget. Dangerous waters. “We are both aware that you’re not. What’s happened to you two?”
She eyed the neighboring bench, deciding against having a seat and instead leaning against the back of another bench to prop herself up. “Kadaj, Loz, and Yazoo. We were caught.” She tore off a tattered piece of her own sleeve, holding it against one of her graver injuries with a small wince. Even in the low light Valentine preferred, Elena had an unhealthy sheen on her skin. “They wanted it. Jenova’s head. They tortured us both. Is he…?”
“Unconscious, but he has a pulse.” Vincent went to the stock of potions and other restorative supplies he had, taking back a collection for Tseng and Elena alike. He held out one of the blue bottles to Elena, meeting her weary gaze from the corner of his eyes. “For you.”
“So generous,” she teased, even now, and put the scrap of fabric in her pocket while she took the bottle from him. For Tseng, it would not be so simple since he was not awake. Vincent would need to heal him with salves and materia instead. She downed her potion quickly, punctuating it with a sigh. “An X-potion,” she observed with a note of surprise.
“Hm,” Vincent acknowledged, treating Tseng’s wounds and seeing a flicker of pain that pierced through his unconsciousness. “You should rest.”
Elena laughed, a delicate brightness in this dark place. Few could muster the strength to laugh after all she’d been through today alone. Vincent glanced to her again and she settled in close to him and Tseng. “Thanks, by the way. I really had no idea where to go.”
“How did you even find me?” Vincent hadn’t planned on asking, but the alternative was to let Elena choose the subject. Silence was not an option with her present.
“Turk instincts,” she remarked, tapping her temple and smirking. Her hair hung partly in her face as always, though it was now matted with sweat and dried blood. No potion could fix that. She was certainly a sight.
He breathed something akin to a laugh.
“What do you know,” she teased, resting back against the bench and placing the empty potion bottle an arm’s length away. “He can laugh.”
The stillness of night imbued the church with a peace even with the company and conversation it was so unused to housing. Or perhaps that was his concern alone. Elena’s wounds had closed, though the ones she first incurred in her torture still remained — either as they were or as scars. One raw injury traced along the soft curve of her cheek, jagged and dark red. He could see a redness around its edges that suggested the cut had been even worse before the potion. What could possibly cause such an injury… Vincent was certain he did not want to know. Even if he had, he wouldn’t put Elena through an explanation. Part of him considered offering her comfort. Mercifully, the impulse passed quickly.
“Did they mention why they wanted the head? To torture you both so brutally,” he thought aloud and stood. He wasn’t sensitive to the cold as much as he had been before the experiments conducted on him, but he assumed the two of them would prefer blankets. Among the supplies he held here for other victims, Vincent was certain there were at least two they could use until they recovered enough. Being Turks, they would of course be on their way the moment they could stand unassisted. Given where his thoughts were taking him today, it would be best for him that they did.
“I’ve seen your record. You still have clearance, so…” She sighed, leaning forward once more. Her movements were stiff, but they were steadier than they had been prior. At least any other terrible decision she made that day would be done in mostly working condition. “I guess I can tell you. They want Jenova’s legacy, the Sephiroth gene.”
Lucrecia, growing with child, but sickly from experiments. The argument with Hojo concluded with a gunshot; how was Vincent outdrawn by such a man? Pain blossomed in fragments across his chest. Consciousness came and went as the experiments on his body continued and ultimately failed — he was not dead, but neither was alive.
She saved him. He woke up on an operating table in her lab, tormented and enraged, from all of it. Her suffering. The experiments she had been subjected to. His powerlessness to stop any of it. This was his punishment for being unable to protect her and her unborn baby from their fate at the hands of Hojo.
He tensed, drawing himself to the present with a bitter and familiar taste of regret in his mouth. If Elena noticed, she wasn’t letting it on.
“I figure they want to re-create Sephiroth, but with all the talk of their ‘mother’,” she muttered, staring off into the shadows of his shelter. Having found the blankets as she spoke, Vincent returned to the sudden patients taking shelter with him. “Who knows anymore?”
“You had it coming, then,” Vincent deadpanned and laid a blanket over Tseng while she attempted to break up the mats in her hair. “You knew the danger when you took the head.”
“Of course we did,” she answered matter-of-factly as if it were nothing more serious than the weather. She tucked her hair behind her ear, evidently successful in detangling it enough for that. It was as if she wasn’t at the gates of death mere minutes ago. He could hardly be surprised. There was very little that Elena could not accomplish through her tremendous force of will. “We’re Turks. That is our actual job, Vincent. And we get paid well for it.”
Her gaze turned to Tseng as he shifted, settling in under the blanket. If nothing else, he had relaxed and gotten some of his color back. A regular person would take days to recover, but a twenty-minute nap ought to suffice in his case.
“I’ve done what I can for him.” Vincent held out a blanket to her, which she took with a smile. A familiar feeling rised to the surface… One he would not pursue — a final transgression he could spare himself and Lucrecia from. “We’ll just have to see.”
Days passed unremarkably. The situation had quieted, though who could say how long that peace would last. With Cloud and company, it was never a permanent state. He was only disrupted by a package brought by a teenager with a messenger bag and a jagged scar on her face.
Inside the battered package, a phone with a default set-up screen displaying was waiting for him. The protective case was a dark red with black accents, certainly not a mistake on her part. He didn’t even need to read the note to know the sender.
I heard from a little bird that you don’t have a phone yet. I programmed my number in already. Don’t worry, it’s private — not Turk-issued. And don’t be a stranger!